Saturday, September 16, 2006

Advance Warning of Emergency

I've been doing a lot of technical writing recently. In the process of this I've been thinking a lot about the careful choice of words, how they go together and what information they do or don't convey.

With this in mind I became quite upset when driving and saw a sign about a diversion due to a closed road. The sign was about the 'Advanced warning of road closure due to emergency sewer repairs'.

There's two things that jumped out at me. Advanced warning & Emergency.
How can you have an advanced warning of an emergency? Emergency implies a sense of urgency, that something must be done NOW!

Think emergency services. You're never going to call them and say "I'm going to have a heart attack. Can you send an ambulance in two days time."
"My house is going to be on fire next Thursday, can you send a fire engine then."

This just completely misuses the word and even concept of an emergency.

My guess is that the intention was to indicate that it was an important, essential or a priority repair that was being done. I'm sure that If I lived near the broken sewer I'd want right now! not in a few days time.

Of all the words that could end up be sanitised and have their meaning diluted, this is one that should be protected. If 'emergency' ended up meaning 'quite important' it would be a terrible thing.

Rant over.


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